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Why Do People Move From Toronto to Collingwood – Blue Mountain?

Posted by Sherry Rioux on May 17, 2009

Collingwood and Blue Mountain used to be unknown little towns and then somehow, the secret got out.  The Georgian Triangle has really become the “Hamptons” of Toronto with people moving into this area on mass from “the city.”  I’ve often wondered what drives this forceful and ongoing trend.

Although I was born in Toronto and grew up in Oakville, we moved to the Georgian Triangle back in 1986 when it was still relatively unknown.  Somewhere in the years since then, we settled into the lifestyle of small-town Ontario without ever really noticing or looking back.  Along the way, we started to drive slower, got used to planning extra time for each errand to allow for the inevitable friendly chats in the grocery store or on the street, adapted to clean air and came to feel at home with Georgian Bay and Blue Mountain as neighbours.  While we were busy living, we somehow became reflections of the town we call home.

For those who know that we cared for our elderly mothers in our home in their last years, you know we’ve also spent most the last five years being only in one of two places:  work or home.   It’s like at times we forgot there was a big world out there as our own world was very narrow and focussed.  Until now that is.

This past week, a good friend and I ventured out for a two day “girl’s week-end’ (even though it was mid week) in the BIG city of Toronto.  Yup, we’re talking concert tickets at the ACC (Il Divo or, “The El Hunkos as my friend calls them), taxi rides, dinners, drinks, a swank downtown hotel and of course, shopping!

While navigating through traffic along busy Dundas Street toward Jarvis, a funny thing happened.  As there were no cars behind me, I slowed down to allow a pedestrian to cross in front of us.  He was standing in the middle of the road.  Now in Collingwood, this is considered a gesture of decency on the part of a driver and, it is entirely common.  The pedestrian completes their j-walk and waves a “thanks” as everyone goes on their way.  Well in Toronto, this fellow got mad at me!  He angrily waved his arm for me to hurry up and then he just shook his head at me as though I was the sorriest country bumpkin he’d ever seen.  No sooner did that happen when a taxi cut me off and then a streetcar came barrelling toward us.  Next block?  Fire trucks and ambulances tried to get down the impossibly congested street leaving my heart breaking with worry over the poor saps who were waiting for them.

Is this why people leave the city?  The first day, we walked south down Yonge Street from Queen figuring we’d grab a bit before the show that night.  Much to our surprise, there were hardly any restaurants on this section of the famous street although we did finally settle into one where we were herded and hurried like cattle through the restaurant and meal.  We also took note of the tall buildings wondering what businesses might occupy these menacing pillars of concrete and glass.  Surprisingly, most had nothing but a number to adorn them.  No name, no awning, no brass plate.  I guess the city really is a place where nobody knows your name.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE Toronto.  Besides the obvious advantages of having great options for shopping, dining and activities, there are lots of trees, great public spaces, parks, inspiring works of public art, gentrified neighbourhoods, beautiful architecture and neighbourhoods that I imagine are much like small villages where the residents rarely need to leave.

But there is another side.  There is traffic, visible pollution, poverty and sadness.  It’s expensive.  It’s noisy.  I couldn’t see the stars at night.  In some areas, it felt soulless with enormous buildings built like boxes, no trees and rows of electronics shops.  But here is what I really noticed most of all:  people are insular.  The vast majority of people we passed on the street were talking on cell phones.  Drivers were aggressive and appeared angry.  With the exception of one unforgettable waitress (I still say she was drunk) and one incredible clothing store employee, the service we encountered was impersonal, rushed and uncaring.  What I noticed is that people no longer appear to SEE.  They don’t look up.  They don’t look around.  They don’t look at others when they speak.  Eyes on the road, eyes on the phone, eyes on the pavement.

So, now I think I get it.  The urban refugees fleeing to Collingwood want to SEE again.  They want to connect to something.  Maybe they want to drive slower, maybe they want to be a little nicer. Perhaps they want someone to talk to them.  Chat for awhile.  Connect. Breathe.

Tell me, am I right?  Even close?

2 thoughts on “Why Do People Move From Toronto to Collingwood – Blue Mountain?

  • Lady Samm
    on May 17, 2009

    Good Morning, and oh boy could I resonate with your observations Marg. Although we do not live in the “Canadian Hampton’s”, we did move from a fairly large city and move to Wine Country. Our town is only 3,000+ people and I have noticed how personable people are here and we can see the stars at night and melody of birds is what wakes us in the morning, not traffic and sirens. I don’t miss the big city whatsoever. I don’t miss the noise, pollution or the crowds. We laugh here if we note 5 cars at the only stop light in Smithville, “ohhh we got caught up in rush hour”….
    We embrace our small town where we see someone we know every time we venture out to do some shopping. We feel we are the lucky ones, we get it, people care in small towns. ps. my BIL lives in Collingwood and notes the same as you do. The city is nice to visit but Collingwood is home.
    ’cause you matter lady samm

  • I.M.
    on August 14, 2010

    You wrote:
    “the service we encountered was impersonal, rushed and uncaring. What I noticed is that people no longer appear to SEE. They don’t look up. They don’t look around. They don’t look at others when they speak. Eyes on the road, eyes on the phone, eyes on the pavement.
    So, now I think I get it. The urban refugees fleeing to Collingwood want to SEE again. They want to connect to something. Maybe they want to drive slower, maybe they want to be a little nicer. Perhaps they want someone to talk to them. Chat for awhile. Connect. Breathe.
    Tell me, am I right? Even close?”

    I totally agree. I have not been to your part of the world but it’s happening everywhere. For the joy of acting, I took a college acting class in my hometown in California. It was full of young people who were starved for meaningful one-on-one interaction. They actually said that was their reason for taking the class when we all introduced ourselves. How sad. There are consequences of this mad, rushed, impersonal pace and the young people are suffering for it. They just wanted to connect as human beings face to face. Word had gotten around that they could experience that in an acting class.

    Their other classes are rushed and no one ever gets a moment to know each other. I had taken one of those “normal” college classes and for the entire semester felt like I couldn’t come up for air because the pace was too fast, frantic and impersonal. At the end of the 12-week semester none of us in class had even met each other or had any time to visit and talk even minimally let alone make any friendships. The young students had lost, worried looks on their faces so I know they were feeling the same way. It felt very discordant and ungrounded. I got an “A” in that class and quick praise from the teacher, but the entire experience felt like a punishment. I was not inspired to take the next level of the class and just wanted to crawl off and recover like a wounded animal.

    In our acting class we did dance exercises to loosen up and acting improv. It was all about being in the present, connecting, breathing, feeling, being grounded and using imagination. As I walked to class sometimes I would have tears of joy and gratitude. It was life-affirming.

    Thanks for the blog. I found it when I was googling which side of the road Toronto/Canadians drive on! A wonderful speaker will be in Toronto Aug. 28, 2010 and I was hoping to go.

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